Chocolate Makes You Smarter, Study Says

Harvard doctors say that chocolate boosts brain power.

Cocoa beans photo via shutterstock

Cocoa beans photo via shutterstock

Even though it’s still summer (and let’s hope it stays summer for a little while), the fall clothes in stores and back to school commercials on television make it hard not to think about the season ahead. When the weather gets colder and you reach for a hot drink, make sure it’s hot chocolate.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s hospital published a study this week in the journal, Neurology, that looked at the health benefits of cocoa, or more specifically, flavanols, and their effect on blood pressure. Flavanols are natural compounds found in cocoa beans which form a chemical called nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide has been shown to relax blood vessels. There are many blood pressure medications that work to affect levels of nitric oxide in the blood, so flavanols could have a therapeutic effect.

Based on this study, some doctors may even start prescribing cocoa to patients at risk for hypertension. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic tell ABC News:

“Based on this study,” said Dr. Randal Thomas, an internist at the Mayo Clinic, “I’ll mention to my patients that a small amount of chocolate may help reduce cardiovascular risk by reducing blood pressure.”

Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics, agreed, saying he would “tell patients that a little — emphasis on little — dark chocolate may be a good thing … and cocoa powder is probably the best way to get their flavanols.”

The study investigated the relationship between neurovascular coupling (the relationship between brain activity and blood flow to the brain) and cognitive function in elderly individuals to determine whether neurovascular coupling could be modified by cocoa consumption. The study looked at 60 people between the ages of 67 and 77 who had 30 days of twice-daily hot cocoa consumption. The results were a 30 percent increase in memory and thinking abilities among those who originally had impaired blood flow to their brains.

Study author Dr. Farzaneh Sorond, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, says that chocolate seemed to boost the brain’s blood supply. After a months worth of hot cocoa, study participants had an 8.3 percent increase in blood flow.

“The areas of your brain that are working need more fuel,” she said, describing a phenomenon known as “neurovascular coupling,” which refers to the intimate link between better blood flow and improved neuronal activity.

In people with impaired blood flow, she added, “cocoa may be beneficial by delivering more fuel.”

The study concluded that regular cocoa consumption improved cognitive function. If Harvard tells us to eat or drink more chocolate, we are totally okay with that.